Awareness of Bullying in the Workplace

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Awareness of Bullying in the Workplace

The phenomenon of bullying in the workplace has been studied in academic circles for about two decades and there have been many reviews written in the literature (Samnani & Singh, 2012; Moayed et. al., 2006; Salin, 2003).  Unfortunately, it has only been recently that this information is making its way out to professionals in the field, who should be aware of this type of abuse in the workplace, e.g., lawyers, doctors, social workers, HR personnel, unions and legislators. If a person presents to one of these professionals with a concern they may have in their workplace and the professional is unknowledgeable in the area of workplace bullying, then how can that person even begin to resolve the issue in their workplace?  A short six years ago, I heard a lawyer say “.. well, they are a private company, they can do anything they want”.  It is this sort of attitude that comes about through the lack of legislation and education.  Organizations like ABRC are strong advocates of changes to the legislation, which will enable professionals to get the guidance they need in order to recognize workplace bullying.

The second component is education and this article takes the approach of bringing some of the literature to the public, so that workplace bullying behaviours can be recognized for what they really are – bullying.  I have chosen two references that provide lists of bullying behaviours which have been assembled (Keashly & Jagatic, 2003; Fox & Stallworth, 2005).  Some of the behaviours can be clearly seen to be bullying, e.g., name calling, attacked verbally, yelled at and physically assaulted (Keashly & Jagatic, Table 2.1, 36) and made aggressive gestures, angry outbursts, threaten you with job loss and intentionally sabotaged your work (Fox & Stallworth, Table 1, page 443).  These types of behaviours are obviously inappropriate in any workplace (or social environment) and if enacted repeatedly, then they are clearly bullying.

There may be behaviours in the workplace that are not so clear cut and easily recognized, yet these behaviours may result in psychological stress in an individual, even if that person doesn’t realize it at the time.  The following is a list of behaviours that may not be initially recognized as bullying behaviours (1-4: Keashly & Jagatic; 5-8: Fox & Stallworth).  I have also included in brackets, a potential category for each of the behaviours.

(1) attempts made to turn others against the target {work sabotage}

(2) your contributions are ignored {destabilization}

(3) been given little or no guidance {destabilization}

(4) expected to work with unreasonable deadlines {abusive supervision}

(5) situated your workspace in a physically isolated location {isolation or being ostracized}

(6) took credit for your work {harm to reputation}

(7) intentionally left the area when you entered {isolation or being ostracized}

(8) intentionally gave you no work {demeaning behaviour}

A target may not initially recognize each of the listed behaviours as bullying and may simply discount it in one way or another.  Thus, I will examine each of the behaviours individually.

(1) in this case, a person may not even know that someone is trying to turn others against them and even if they hear rumors, they still may not believe that it is truly happening, unless they have some sort of validation.  In this case, someone may be trying to sabotage your career.

(2) if your contributions are ignored, one may feel unhappy about it, but would you really consider it to be bullying or just unprofessional?  Having this happen to you may make you feel uneasy or destabilize you, which may cause you to lose your confidence, motivation, or sense of purpose.

(3) been given little or no guidance may make you feel confused, unsettled, apprehensive, or question the stability and security of this workplace.  This type of behaviour may be perpetrated upon a target for the purposes of destabilizing that person.

(4) being given unreasonable work deadlines may appear as a bullying behaviour, but in some workplaces it may be the norm and nobody questions it because management may say “that is just the way it is here”.  This statement is a tactic to intimidate employees into thinking that they have to comply with management, but this is a strategic attempt to influence employees (Jenkins, 2012, p.497).  As well, this type of “strategic bullying” can become the norm and management may consider this to be a reasonable method to get employees to meet organizational demands (Jenkins, 2012, p.497).  Furthermore, this tactic can be categorized as abusive supervison and is clearly a bullying behaviour.

(5) if you are suddenly placed in an isolated workspace, management may claim that it is being done for organizational purposes, but in fact it is a way to isolate you from the group. You can no longer contribute or experience being part of the team.  Under those circumstances, it will be easy for an employer to terminate your employment – because you are no longer contributing to the group.

(6) when someone else takes credit for your work, it might appear as if you did not contribute at all and this could harm your reputation.  A perpetrator may claim that it was a team effort and meant no harm, but adept perpetrators can use this tactic as a bullying behaviour.

(7) intentionally left the area when you entered – may seem benign at the time, but when this is repeated, could also leave you feeling unsettled.  This is a way that a perpetrator may make you feel as if you are being ostracized from the group, knowing that it will affect you.  Being ostracized can be psychologically distressing and is a bullying behaviour.

(8) intentionally gave you no work – some employers will simply take work away from an employee because a manager may falsely claim that the employee is a problem.  This tactic is termed attribution of blame (i.e., blame the victim).  Leyman suggets that sometimes management may accept the prejudices of the perpetrator, because they have not carefully evaluated the circumstances (Leyman, 1996).  This gives the perpetrator the justification to proceed with a bullying behaviour. This behaviour is demeaning and as such, is a bullying behaviour.

If a  target of workplace bullying obtains advice from an unqualified (or unknowledgeable) professional, they may not get the advice they need to resolve their workplace issue.  A qualified counsellor trained to address workplace bullying will be able to interpret these types of issues and provide appropriate advice.  Thus, the need for changes to legislation and continuing education for all professions, in order to better serve those who are experiencing workplace bullying.

 

Terrance J. Sereda, 24-Sept-2016

References:

(1) Samnani, A. and Singh, P. (2012), “20 years of workplace bullying research: A review of the antecedents and consequences of bullying in the workplace”, Aggression and Violent Behaviour, Vol. 17, pp. 581-589.

(2) Salin, D. (2003), “Ways of explaining workplace bullying: A review of enabling, motivating and precipitating structures and processes in the work environment”, Human Relations, Vol. 56 No. 10, pp. 1213-1232.

(3) Moayed, F. A., Daraiseh, N., Shell, R. & Salem, S. (2006). Workplace bullying: A systematic review of risk factors and outcomes. Theoretical Issues in Ergonomics Science, 7(3),  311-327.

(4) Keashly, L. & Jagatic, K. (2003). By Any  Other Name – American perspectives on workplace bullying, in Einarsen, S., Hoel H., Zapf, D. and Cooper, C.L. (Eds.), Bullying and Emotional Abuse in the Workplace: International Perspectives in Research and Practice, Taylor & Francis, London, pp. 30-61.

(5) Fox, S. and Stallworth, L.E. (2005), Racial/ethnic bullying: Exploring links between bullying and racism in the U.S. workplace, Journal of Vocational Behavior, Vol. 66, pp. 438-456.

(6) Jenkins, M. F., Zapf, D., Winefield, H. & Sarris, A. (2012). Bullying allegations from the accused bully’s perspective. British Journal of Management, 23, 489-501.

(7) Leymann, H. (1996). The content and development of mobbing at work. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 5(2), 165-184.

Awareness of Bullying in the Workplace
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